It’s a long-standing cliché that artists are their own worst critics. There’s a lot of truth to this, if my own pessimistic thoughts are to be believed about a digitally-edited painting that I made a few hours before writing this article (and consider to be a “failure”).
The full-size painting will be posted here in early February, but here’s a reduced-size preview:
Still, if experience has taught me anything, there’s a significant chance that other people will actually like it. Every artist has probably experienced something like this once or twice. We make what we think is a failed painting, only for other people to really like it (either online or in real life). In fact, our failures can sometimes prove to be more popular than our successes.
So, what are the reasons for this strange phenomenon? Here are a few possible explanations:
1) We judge our art relatively, the audience doesn’t: Generally, when you make a terrible painting, you don’t plan to make a terrible painting. You plan to make a really cool/interesting/detailed/dramatic painting. But, somewhere along the way, something goes wrong and the painting ends up being a massive disappointment.
However, it’s important to remember that the only person who knows what the painting should have looked like is you. To you, the painting is a disappointment because it failed to meet your expectations. To everyone else, it’s just a painting.
No-one else sees what we imagined that our paintings “should” look like. As such, they judge the painting on it’s own merits. Since they don’t have another imagined version of it to compare it with, then they are slightly more likely to think of it as a “good” painting if you’ve had a bit of art practice….
2) You’ve had practice: Many people who look at art online aren’t artists. As such, if you’ve had a bit of art practice, then you’ll probably still end up producing something that looks like “art” even when you fail miserably.
What, to you, seems like the depressing product of 1-2 wasted hours (or more) might also look like something that has been produced by someone with more art skills than some members of the audience have. As such, they are just as likely to be impressed by one of your “failures” as they are by one of your “successes”.
In addition to this, try comparing one of your current “failures” to one of your “successes” from a couple of years ago. Because of all of the additional practice you’ve had during those years, there’s a very good chance that your new “failure” will actually look significantly better than your old “successful” painting does. If people liked that old painting, then there’s a good chance that they’ll also like your new painting.
3) There are worse failures out there: Regardless of how bad you think that your painting looks, there is almost certainly a worse one out there on the internet. There’s a 100% chance that your audience have also seen worse paintings than yours at one point in their lives. It’s a universal truth that, whatever you do, there will always be both someone better at it than you and someone worse at it than you. Everyone is somewhere in the middle.
We often judge our “failed” paintings in comparison to the “good” paintings that we’ve seen and/or made. The audience judges it compared to every other painting that they’ve ever seen. As such, because the standards are different, they’re more likely to have a positive opinion about your “failed” painting than you will. They’ve almost certainly seen far worse.
4) Different people have different tastes: Back in 2014, I’d planned to make a bold and vibrant high-contrast picture of an underpass near the train station in Brighton. Due to my lack of understanding about colour theory, and a catalogue of other failures, the final painting ended up being a drab confusing mess (with terrible perspective too!)…
And, yet, when I posted it online, it quickly racked up more “likes” than many of my “good” paintings do. Whilst my own preferences are for bold high-contrast art, I guess that a lot of people either like more muted art or art that has a vaguely abstract look to it.
At the end of the day, different people have different tastes. So, whilst you might consider one of your paintings to be a “failure” because it somehow didn’t end up fitting into your own idea of what a “good” painting should look like, it might accidentally fit into someone else’s definition of a “good painting”.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂